Military aircraft carrier

Military Tablet Functionality: What Do You Need – and How Do You Go About Getting It?

Tablets have the potential to significantly increase efficiency in the defence space. Mission planning, logistics, training, medical care and in-the-field communications can all be optimised by introducing the right mobile device for the job.

But how do you match a military tablet with a defence forces role? Getting this right is crucial if your deployment of technology is going to be effective and provide a return on investment.

Nuffield Technologies works closely with defence forces in hardware procurement and software development. In this post, we’ll give you insights into how we help military procurement make the right decisions for their teams.

The two things to consider in a military tablet

When choosing a fleet of tablet devices, you’ll largely be thinking about:

  1. Tablet model
  2. Software

While there is a great deal of overlap between these two areas in terms of making a good choice, for clarity we’ll look at them in turn.

1) Choosing the right model

When working with a client, our starting point is to closely analyse personnel workflows. For instance, we will speak to people in logistics, engineering or frontline battle roles to develop a deep understanding of the challenges of the role, the technology currently being used and processes.

One feature applies to every tablet we recommend. Durability. It’s essential in commercial environments – and even more so in military scenarios – that the device is rugged. At the broadest level, this means it will meet MIL-STD 810G drop test recommendations and IP (ingress protection) 65 or above.

You can find out more about what makes a tablet truly rugged here.

With ruggedness as a starting point, we’ll then investigate a job role in detail and match a tablet’s specs with the workflow. To illustrate the sheer range and versatility of tablets available, we’ll look at hypothetical scenarios for two military roles.

Scenario: equipment maintenance

The challenge:

In this scenario, mechanics will be repairing and maintaining equipment and vehicles at locations across the globe. It is imperative that they have access to repair manuals, and maintenance and health and safety guidelines while undertaking their work. These materials should be viewable on a large, bright screen. Work will be conducted both indoors and outdoors in varying light conditions and temperatures, and rain, grease and dust may all be present to some extent. Tablets used in equipment maintenance may be set down roughly, or even dropped when negotiating tight spaces.

The solution:

We would recommend a thin, light tablet with a rugged profile that includes an IP65 ingress protection rating, MIL-STD-810H drop specifications and toughened Gorilla Glass, to help withstand hostile conditions and rough treatment. This tablet can be dropped on tile or concrete floors, and used inside and outside – even in the heat or subzero temperatures. Even if you hose it off, the device will continue working. Manuals can be read clearly on the large 10in display and fast wireless connectivity ensures documents can be downloaded in the field if necessary. A second hot-swappable battery provides lengthy battery life.

The Zebra ET45 tablet, displayed with colourful screen and sturdy black casing.
The Zebra ET45: this rugged device with a large screen is an excellent choice for military mechanics maintaining vehicles

Scenario: battlefield operations

The challenge:

In this second scenario, personnel endure the toughest environments for long periods of time where heat, cold, dust and glare are commonplace. They will need to set down tablets quickly and may be wearing gloves. Devices are secured and removed rapidly from battlefield vehicles such as armoured carriers and helicopters.

The solution:

Our choice is a lightweight, high-grade rugged tablet with a stronger-than-steel magnesium frame. It maintains its IP65 rating even with the port doors open and withstands blowing dust, driving rain and cold storage environments. An extended life battery provides up to 27 hours of charge and a spare, hot-swappable battery ensures uninterrupted connectivity for twice that time. The 1000-nit sunlight-viewable reinforced display glass ensures the display is viewable in bright conditions and is suitable for use with gloved hands. The tablet can be secured and removed swiftly, ‘grab and go’ style courtesy of a range of vehicle-mounted compatible add-ons suitable for personnel carriers and helicopters.

The Zebra L10 tablet, shown with a bright, colourful screen and black casing with handle..
The Zebra L10: a tough tablet with a bright screen and extended-life batteries that can last for up to 27 hours.

A note on backward and forward compatibility

Will new devices work alongside older devices, or with older cradles and charging points? And will new add-ons such as scanners work with older devices?

Ensuring a supplier offers backward and forward compatibility between its devices and add ons will help ensure you are not constantly spending more replacing incompatible technology with newer versions.

2) Choosing the right military tablet operating system

For most mobile devices, the choice of operating system will be iOS, Windows or Android.

We strongly favour and recommend Android in a military environment. There are many strong reasons to choose this OS, which we’ve discussed in this military operating system article. However, by far the most important consideration is a fundamental difference between the two operating systems.

iOS is a closed operating system. This means it is not configurable by third parties.

Android is an open operating system. This means third parties can adapt the OS to meet the needs of different sectors. This adaptability could help a device meet mandatory requirements in the defence sector, particularly with regards to security.

Here’s some strong reasons – all related to open source – we think you should choose Android.

Rugged availability

Because Android is available to hundreds of manufacturers, procurers can choose from a huge variety of enterprise rugged tablets. This means it is possible to meet very specific requirements, as we illustrated in our hypothetical scenarios above.

iOS, however, is only available on Apple products; and Apple does not make rugged devices.

Military spec customisation

Making use of Android’s open source format, Nuffield Technologies’ ASP (Android Secure platform) offers a series of Android-customised features suitable for military environments. These include:

  • USB data transfer to manage Android smartphones and tablets that are permanently disconnected from any network. (This can be particularly valuable in those sensitive defence spaces disconnected from any wireless network)
  • Enhanced security authentication and hardened OS security
  • Industry standard AES-256 data encryption
  • Multi-user setup, so managers can safely share devices between different users
  • Rapid mass provisioning – setting up and rolling out device features centrally, with minimal user interaction required

While iOS does now offer some level of device-by-device customisation, it cannot respond to unique requirements to anywhere near the same degree.

Enhanced security

Because Android is open source, manufacturers can continue adding security patches for years after Apple will support a device.

For instance, support is available to Apple devices for five to six years before the OS stops receiving updates.

However, rugged manufacturers such as Zebra can provide support for up to 10 years for its devices. It delivers the regular OS updates needed to repel threats and gives users control over how and when to update or migrate to new versions of the OS.

Since it is impossible to use an unsupported device in military environments, this ongoing support will keep devices working for longer and provide greater value for money.

Military tablet specifications: why consultancy is key

In specialised military scenarios with mandatory requirements, consultancy is vital.

An experienced consultant will match hardware exactly to the job specification. Meanwhile, software developers can tailor an operating system – invariably Android – to ensure it provides maximum security and longevity, and the bespoke features required to help personnel work better and faster.

Nuffield Technologies works in partnership with defence organisations to provide perfect-fit rugged tablets and accompanying OS software.

We are accredited with JOSCAR, the highly respected supplier evaluation system for the aerospace, defence and security sectors.

Talk to a military rugged tablet expert now.

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